Context.

Our students deserve better.

Just finished reading The Pitfalls of Reform: Its Incompatibility with Actual Improvement by John Tanner.  He concluded his thinking with that line.  “Our students deserve better.”

As with all good books that impact learners, his book has impacted me.  And that line really hit home.  I have been having that specific thought a lot lately.  But the context in which I have been having it has been a little unusual.

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Our wonderful communities recently supported a significant capital projects bond so we could build, update, and replace aging and overcrowded facilities.  Last week, during one of our leadership walkthroughs at our middle school, I was walking with our new high school principal.  He had spent little to no time in our middle school.  Our middle school is very old and it shows.  It’s the first building project we’re tackling with our communities’ support.  I said to him, as we were looking at the condition of the building, “Our students deserve better.”

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I’m wondering and thinking about what other contexts might produce that idea in one’s head?  Our students deserve better?  Beyond the context of facilities.

Contexts like the kids I had in my math classes so many years ago?  Where my teaching consisted of kids in rows, taking notes, then silently working on assignments?  Students deserve better.

Contexts like classroom management techniques focused on quiet?  Students deserve better.

Contexts like that last time some educators read anything was in college.  Students deserve better.

Contexts like building leaders simply managing buildings rather than being open learners, willing to try things and fail publicly.  Students deserve better.

One could keep going, but here’s the suggestion, for all of us in the education world.  As you go through your day,  as you do your work with teachers and/or kids, does that work, action, interaction, comment, idea, practice, or whatever compel you think, “Student deserve better”?

You might be surprised at the impact of the answer.  The impact can be pretty moving and poignant.  What one does next is the big question.

Context matters.  Students deserve better.

 

The flow of learning around here.

Our superintendent, Kevin Alfano, recently returned from a meeting with a group of superintendents.  He was telling us about the focus of the learning: school organizations as bureaucracies vs. learning organizations.  Our intention is to well live and work in the latter.  In the conversation, he mentioned an author, John Tanner.  Turns out that John Tanner has written a book called The Pitfalls of Reform: Its Incompatibility with Actual Improvement.  The description of the book and its author caught my attention…so I bought the book and have nearly finished reading it.  It’s an amazing discussion about standardized testing, what it can do, and what it definitely can’t do.  And how it has zero to do with actual improvement for kids and teachers.

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Here are a few booming quotes/ideas that hit home:

“Assessing students and gaining an understanding regarding what they know or are able to do is a vital component of accountability, but it is the easiest part of accountability. Once we know where students stand in their learning, the harder part is understanding why we are seeing the results we are seeing. Why is one gender performing better than the other? Why do some of our English-language learners excel when others do not? Answers to these questions enable teachers to change, hone, and refine practice to produce better results. And answers to these questions are not available through standardized testing.”

“The simple fact is that such tests are tools that fail to work as designed once you put the burden of accountability on them. Tests meant to operate in the background as a check on a system are now made to operate front and center and are presumed to say something well beyond and in addition to their design.”

“In fact, tests have come to play just about any role a policymaker wishes to assign to them without so much as even a rudimentary understanding of what a standardized test is, what it was designed to do, or how it was designed to be used. A standardized test score now determines whether a student has sufficiently learned his or her assignments, whether a teacher has effectively delivered the curriculum, whether a principal is or is not a fit instructional leader, and whether the system of education is functioning as intended. None of these was ever inferred in the design. Choosing such an instrument and deploying it counter to its design has serious consequences.”

And my favorite quote so far, ”

“But the argument that anything is better than nothing when it comes to making changes risks offering a fallacy for a solution. It risks being akin to saying “we needed a needle and thread but you gave us a hammer so at least we have that.” Having the wrong tool is having the wrong tool, and it cannot substitute for the right tool. That they are both tools is true—and useful in their own right against their design—but you can’t sew a button with a hammer.”

The point of this blogpost isn’t actually about the book, although it’s a doozy, has already impacted my thinking, and I recommend it to all education leaders and thinkers. The point is how we learn around here.

In our district, we want our leaders to be learners.  We want them to be readers. We want them to be sharers of their learning and reading.  And my aspiration for this year is to encourage our leaders to also be writers.

A simple conversation with our superintendent led to a book being read which led to new ideas and thinking to be undertaken.

A good day at work.

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Educators and Research

What do good educators do with research that will improve learning for kids? 

Before that question can be addressed, there’s a more important question.  Do teachers, after college (or even in college given my experience), connect with research as their careers are rolling along?

In our district, we try to keep our educators apprised of research.  For example, we have shared Hattie’s work, especially the finding regarding ‘Collective Teacher Efficacy’.  At one of our kick off days several years ago, we introduced them to Jenni Donohoo, the author of Collective Efficacy: How Educators’ Beliefs Impact Student Learning.  We literally had Jenni onsite, working directly with our teachers.  That pretty much made the research come to life.  Collective teacher efficacy continues to this day to be a topic of conversation, planning, and action in our schools.

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One of the main reasons it’s easy for educators to get behind Collective Teacher Efficacy?  It just flat makes sense.  When educators share the belief that, through their collective actions, they can influence student outcomes and increase achievement. Educators with high efficacy show greater effort and persistence, willingness to try new teaching approaches, and attend more closely to struggling students’ needs.  Common sense.

Here’s another common sense idea with the power of research behind it.

Greeting kids at the door.  Yep.  That simple idea.  Makes a whopping difference for kids.  Here’s the actual research.  Common sense.  I know teachers who were doing this before they knew about the research.

From the research article, “In practical terms, students in the PGD (Positive Greetings at the Door) classes evidenced a 20% gain in AET (Academic Engaged Time), which corresponds to an extra 12 min of on-task behavior per instructional hour or an additional hour of engagement over the course of a 5-hr instructional day. On a larger scale, use of the PGD strategy could potentially result in gains of several more hours of additional academic engagement over the course of the academic year, which could produce significant improvements in actual academic achievement.”

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Back to the original question.  What do good educators do with research that will improve the learning for kids?   When they know about it, do they act upon it?

Our great teachers do both.  They know about it.  They act upon it.

Boom!

If I only knew then….

“So when kids come to your class, are they learning math or math class?”

There’s a question for you.  Are kids learning math or math class?  Ignore the content area.  The question remains the same.  Not something I had contemplated before.  But it really rocked me back when I heard the line.  So I started thinking back to the math classes I taught.  Or the language arts classes.  Or the social studies classes.

Did the kids learn math…or math class?

I tweeted this line out a while ago.  One of the replies came from the twitter account of Teacher2Teacher.

They asked a fair question:

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My answer was, “I guess I think about what kids are doing. Are they DOING math? Or have they simply figured out how to do your math class? Are they up to their eyeballs in math or up to their eyeballs in the math class routine. And I know one doesn’t automatically exclude the other.”

That answer is fine.  It’s close to what I could express within the limits of twitter. A better answer would focus on of what constitutes the majority of the kids’ learning?  Do they primarily learn math?  With joy, creativity, challenge, open ended thinking, collaboration?  Or do they primarily learn math class?

I know the kids learned math class because I had my routine. Get out your homework while I take attendance. Maybe a bell ringer activity.  Any questions from last night’s homework?  No?  Ok, switch papers.  Correct.  Turn them in.  Get out your notes.  I give some notes about the next thing in the math book.  Any questions?  No.  Ok, the assignment is page 48, 2-40 even.  Go ahead and get to work.

Ugh.  As goes the old saying, if I only knew then what I know now.  That model would be blown up.  Way less teacher.  Way more kid.  Way more interaction among kids.  Way more talk, questions, strategies, collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.

Nelson SLMS(Back when I didn’t know what I know now)

The line also made the me think about ‘classroom management’.  Such an awkward phrase.  Like teachers are managing a classroom.  They’re not.  The classroom is fine.  It’s a room.  The ‘management’ is of students.  Kids.  And usually the ‘management’ is focused solely on behavior.  And more specifically, sadly, kids being quiet and orderly.  Again, the old saying.  I’d rework the entire classroom management conversation. Something more along the lines of, “How to we maximize our learning time together everyday?”  “What does it look like and feel like in here when we’re learning?”  And 5 bucks says the answers wouldn’t all focus on quiet.

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One little line disrupted my thinking.  That’s a darn good thing.

What does the ‘I’ stand for again? #LeadLAP #IMMOOC

Sometimes when we’re out and about and people ask us what our roles are, we tell them we work in in the TLI department in Fife.  And of course we’re asked what the heck TLI stands for.  Teaching-Learning-Innovation.  Most people get the Teaching-Learning part.  In our little shed down here, we define learning thusly, “Learning results in a permanent change in thinking or behavior.”  So…one has learned something when a permanent change in thinking or behavior occurs.  Turns out, for example, I never actually learned about photosynthesis.  I held the information for a while, until the test, then gave the information back, and went my merry way. No permanent change in thinking or behavior.  And of course teaching is everything that great educators do with/for kids to create learning.  And everything that great educators do create learning for themselves.

 

How about the innovation part?  Well we get our definition for innovation from an educator named George Couros.  He wrote a book called The Innovator’s Mindset.  I’ve probably mentioned over 1000 times that this is simply the best book about the learning world I’ve ever read.  A career changing mind blower.  Couros on innovation, I’m defining innovation as a way of thinking that creates something new and better. Innovation can come from either “invention” (something totally new) or “iteration” (a change of something that already exists), but if it does not meet the idea of “new and better,” it is not innovative. That means that change for the sake of change is never good enough. Neither is using innovation as a buzzword, as many organizations do, to appear current or relevant.”

Something is innovative if it creates something new and better.

We have examples of innovation all over the place in our district!  One of the questions we encourage ourselves and our educator colleagues to consider is, “When was the last time I did something for the first time?”  That’s a decent place to start thinking about something new.  But not new for the sake of new.  That’s dumb. New and making something better.

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Here’s a perfect example.  Mr. Beddes, SLMS principal, wanted to focus on the educators at SLMS and improve communication to our community.  So, he decided to give podcasting a try.  Podcasts, in and of themselves, aren’t new.  But Mr. Beddes made them innovative in how he used them, and in doing so, made communication about SLMS better.  New and better.

Here’s his latest podcast, where he interviews Mr. Kratzig.  It’s a remarkable and insightful interview.

Way to model innovation gentlemen!

It ain’t about Twitter. And the power of the #LeadLAP edchat.

“Oh Jeff loves twitter.  He’s the twitter guy.  It must be nice to have all that time to be on twitter.”

Screen Shot 2018-09-24 at 7.49.55 AM.pngI hear this sometimes.  It bothers me.  Or it did until I figured out two things.  Well I figured out one thing and reminded myself of another thing.

The thing I figured out was….it’s not about twitter.  Just like when we introduce Chromebooks into the classroom.  It’s not about the device.  It’s about what kids and teachers do with them.  They’re just Chromebooks.  Twitter is the same. It’s not about twitter for me.

Here’s what it’s about. It’s about how I choose to connect myself to ongoing, personal, professional learning.  And twitter makes it so easy.  So easy.  Twitter isn’t the point.  The learning and growth is the point.  So when I’m sharing what I’ve learned, I’m not sharing twitter.  I’m sharing the learning.  And I hope I’m encouraging others to find ways to continue to grow and learn, twitter or not.

I did not know about this when I was a teacher or a principal.  I figured it out when I moved to a leadership role that, by its definition and title, is focused on Teaching-Learning-Innovation.

Which brings me to the reminder part.  The ever present comment about time.  The most common answer/excuse for not doing something in the history of education.  It’s not about time!  It’s about what we choose to do with the time we have.  I have blogged about this idea a lot.

If we decide that to continue to grown and learn is important, we’ll find the time and the vehicle to make it happen.  If we don’t decide it’s important to continue to grow and learn, we will say we don’t have time.

Last Saturday I joined in an edchat with colleagues around the world, using the hashtag #LeadLAP.  Lead Like a Pirate.  I try to hit this edchat every weekend if I can.  It kicks off at 7:30 a.m., each Saturday, hosted by different educational leaders.

This weekend’s chat was hosted by Dr. Lynell Powell.  The topic was focused on supporting students with challenging behavior.  Here’s her first question:

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This question reminded me of a recent flurry of activity we had been doing in our district around post-its.  Specifically, a post-it around kids making the ‘choice’ to misbehave.  So responded to Dr. Powell’s first question thusly:

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This response led to another response by a new colleague to my PLN:

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And this graphic, from George Aversano, was the hammer of the entire chat to me.  What a great graphic.  What a great reminder!  Don’t judge a student’s story by the chapter you walk in on.  Be a submarine, not a boat.  Look below the surface.

He’s not giving me a hard time.  He’s having a hard time.

Continuing to grow and learn is a professional, moral imperative.  It’s important and deserves our time.

Thank you Dr. Powell for the great edchat.  Thank you Shelley and Beth for Lead Like a Pirate.

See you all on Saturday!

What’s on your post-it?

What’s on the post-it on your monitor?  Do you have a post-it on your monitor?  Do you want to add one?  The one below has been on my monitor through 15 years as a building administrator and now in my 4th year in the district office.  Same message, updated post-it as the older ones became bedraggled.  Just a reminder to me to thank people for doing a great job.  This was a good reminder when I was a principal, for example,  after our teachers killed it with an arena conference or our kids were fantastic at a Veteran’s Day assembly.

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The idea for a blog about Post-its came from this post-it:

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One of our gifted principals, Mark Beddes, captures images every week from his school, and this message was in his latest edition to his staff. What a fantastic reminder for this teacher every day!  Kids all have stories.  Reminds me of the great quote,

“Don’t judge a student’s story

by the chapter you walk in on.”

I was also reminded me of this great post-it:

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This reminder came after a teacher, Andre Sasser, wrote a tweet about how she was going to abandon the usual question to her students, “Do you have any questions?”  Instead, she made the subtle change in language to, “What questions do you have?”  This turned out to be a MONSTER change in her classroom.  I’m guessing every educator can easily see the power of that shift in language!  Instead of the usual silence that followed the former question, questions erupted following the latter!  Then she further honed the question to be, “Ask me two questions.”  By the way, that one tweet currently has 338,000 likes, has been retweeted 62,000 times, with over 1100 comments.  Wow!

Well all of these things caused me to wonder what other educators might have on their post-its.  Daily affirmations?  Quotes? Reminders?

I have another one on my monitor.  In case my scrawl is indecipherable, it’s an on-demand professional learning activity.  I ask forgiveness from the author, as I can’t remember from where I borrowed this idea.

It has 3 steps and is focused on 21st century skills.

  1.  What are the 2 or 3 biggest changes in our society in the last 25-30 years?
  2. What 2-3 skills do students need to address these changes?
  3. How intentional is your school district in helping students develop these skills?

 

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Wow!  This activity is ready to roll at a moment’s notice at any professional learning I lead.  It can easily be adapted to the building or classroom level, ready for teachers or kids.

I’m going to throw this blog online and wonder if other educators will be willing to share their post-its with each other.

What’s on your post-it?

Aspiration as a noun.

as·pi·ra·tion

aspəˈrāSH(ə)n/

noun

a hope or ambition of achieving something.

synonyms:desire, hope, dream, wish, longing, yearning, aimambitionexpectationgoaltarget

We had our first Teaching-Learning-Innovation (TLI) department meeting this morning.  We went around the table and shared what we are reading, either a book or a blog post.  Great ideas and conversation ensued.

Then our great assistant director of TLI, Elaine Smith, had us write an aspiration for the 2018-2019 school year.  She shared the definition above.  This challenge was a good one.  Something about the word ‘aspiration’ makes it sound loftied than ‘goal’.  The synonyms probably explain why.  Words like ‘hope’, ‘dream’, ‘wish’, and ‘longing’.  Much more emotionally based than a goal.

I took this challenge to heart and really pondered my aspiration for this year.  Here’s what I decided to commit to print.

Jeff’s Aspiration for 18-19

Through modeling and encouragement, help leaders see the learning and growth possibilities available to them via the act of writing.

I thought about several quotes and ideas as I contemplated this aspiration.  First, “We don’t learn from experience.  We learn from reflecting on experience.” -John Dewey

Then second, from Jay Billy, as I started reading his excellent book Lead With Culture, I hit this monster idea, “If you don’t believe amazing things can happen when you try something different, if you aren’t willing to take that leap of faith, you are destined to mediocrity—and your students are too.” Wow!

Third, Jay Billy shares the next quote, from Brad Currie, “Students take risks when they see teachers take risks. Teachers take risks when they see school leaders take risks.”

Brad’s quote ends there. With our TLI staff, I added the next line, germane to our roles, “School leaders take risks when they see district leaders take risks.”

So one of our risks will be to write.  We have an enormous wealth of experience in the classroom, as the building level, and in our district.  We need to be willing to share our thinking and experience.  In fact, more than willing.  It’s our job.  It’s our responsibility.

And through that modeling…we will reflect on our experience.  And we will continue to grow and learn.

The night before the first day of school.

Moving from elementary school to junior high, when I was a kid, was the peak of nervousness before school started.  Would I know anybody in my classes?  Who were going to be my friends?  Would my teachers be nice?  What would happen at lunchtime?  These questions and whole bunch of others, made for a very long night.  I remember that the transition from junior high to high school didn’t cause nearly the same amount of angst.

Then I became a teacher.

I don’t know about other teachers, but the night before the first day of school for me was also a long night. And actually it never got easier.  Even after 16 years in the classroom.  Maybe it does after 20 or 30, I don’t know. But I eventually just knew that it was going to be a restless night.  I couldn’t wait to get into the classroom, around my colleagues, and with students, then I calmed down.

Looking back now, I wish I had thought more the kids and about the questions that they were asking themselves on the night before the first day of school.

Will I get lost?  Will my teachers like me?  Will I make friends?  Who will sit with me at lunch?  Will I be safe?

Because, as a teacher, I had the great opportunity to answer those questions.  I could make sure a kid didn’t get lost, that she/he would know that I like her/him.  I could create opportunities for kids, especially new kids, to meet new people and become friends.  I could work with our administrators to create safe social lunches.  And I could make my classroom a safe place.

If I had focused on the kids, their questions, and the answers under my control, I believe I would have slept like a baby.  Because the first day of school wasn’t about me.

It was about the kids.  And it still is.

While visiting all of our schools’ retreats…

So today we had all of our schools’ retreats.  Hundreds of educators gathered in various locations to talk, work, laugh, share, and grow together. It was a spectacular day!  It’s impossible to pick a favorite moment overall.  Too many powerful and moving moments.  So I won’t even try! Thank you to all of our leaders for caring about each other, teachers, kids, and learning for the hard work it takes to build truly profound experiences.

Then, while waiting for one of our groups to return from lunch, I was looking at Twitter….and found this:

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Every time I return to this tweet…it goes up by a couple thousand likes.  I don’t know Andre, but am sure following her now.  Every so often an educator throws out such a profound truth, that other educators react like crazy.  Here’s a case in point.  43,000 likes when I took this screenshot.  Retreated over 8,000 times.  Why?  Because this simple, simple idea, can turn a classroom around instantly.  Forget fancy teaching classes and theories.

Do. This. 

Take a post-it, write these two things on it…then do them.  Instant better learning opportunities for your students or staff.  Full stop.  Period.

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All in all, a great day to be an educator!